Teaching Non-Traditional Students

An Overview

The U.S. Department of Education (2006) has estimated that 40% of all college students in the United States are "non-traditional" students. In other words, six million of them—give or take—are 25 years old or older (para. 1).

In today's educational landscape that means there probably isn't a post-secondary classroom in America in which this demographic isn't represented. At Colorado State University they make up 17% of all undergraduates. Not an emerging population, adult learners have been taking college-level courses—many through distance education programs—for years.

Thanks to digital technology, adult continuing education is more convenient and accessible than ever before. And that—combined with rapidly changing workplace demands—ensures that the non-traditional student population will remain, if not increase, in the years to come.

Whether for the first time, or returning for a second or third, adult learners are enrolled in every course of study available. Purpose driven, they are pursuing degrees in every field and at every level, from associates and bachelors, to masters and PhDs.

This guide is an introduction to these students: who they are, where they come from, and why they're in your classroom. In the sections below you will find useful information on the challenges non-traditional students face and some suggestions for assisting their transition into the post-secondary learning environment.

Included is a quickie crib-sheet of links to various online resources provided by CSU Off-Campus Student Services and Resources for Adult Learners.


Student Aid on the Web. (2006). Non-traditional student. Retrieved September 22, 2008, from the U S Department of Education Web site: http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/returning.jsp